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Hughes Has Low-Tech Answer to Ozone Problem : Environment: The non-toxic formula replaces chemicals that hurt the Earth's protective layer. It also meets rigid military standards.

January 22, 1992|MARLA CONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a development heralded as a major breakthrough in protecting the Earth's ozone layer, Hughes Aircraft Co. said Tuesday that it has developed a technology that can replace ozone-depleting chemicals used in the electronics and aerospace industries.

Considered a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem, the new, non-toxic formula for replacing chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, has a citrus-and-water base and is considered safe for the ozone layer as well as efficient enough to meet the rigid standards of the U.S. military.

Hughes officials declined to discuss details of the formula prior to news conferences scheduled Thursday in Los Angeles and Washington.

Top officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District who have seen demonstrations of the new process at Hughes' Fullerton plant hailed it as a creative, environmentally safe discovery that could end the industries' reliance on CFCs.

Aerospace and electronics industries are among the nation's largest sources of CFCs, which react in the upper atmosphere to consume the planet's ozone shield that safeguards the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. CFCs also contribute to the formation of smog.

Emissions of the destructive gases could be cut by several million pounds per year in the Los Angeles Basin alone if the electronics and aerospace industry switches to it, according to the AQMD.

Manufacturers have been struggling for years to find substitutes that are environmentally safe yet also capable of producing safe and reliable aircraft and defense equipment.

The patented process, developed by a Hughes engineer at its Ground Systems Group in Fullerton, has already been used on the company's assembly lines and has been approved by the U.S. Navy for defense projects, a Hughes official said. The Pentagon has reportedly agreed to change its specifications to allow wider use of the substitute.

A Hughes official said the company will share the technique with other companies at a "minimal cost."

He said Hughes plans to charge other companies for installing the process, but "we are not about to make a lot of money off this. Anybody can use it, and it's so cheap," he said.

James Lents, executive officer of the AQMD, said Tuesday that the new water-soluble process would reduce both smog-forming and ozone-depleting emissions.

Large quantities of CFCs are used by Hughes, McDonnell Douglas Corp., Northrop Corp. and many other manufacturers to clean corrosive acidic compounds, known as fluxes, off circuit boards before they are soldered. The new technology is used instead of the fluxes, making the CFCs unnecessary.

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